Some students enter law school with an idea of what they want to practice as a lawyer, but many others do not. It is okay not to know! The law pervades all industries and facets of society, and the three years of law school is the time to explore and learn through classes, clinics, and summer jobs. As an undecided 1L, I found that my options actually broadened as I became exposed to new areas and concepts. However, there is a plethora of resources, inside and outside of law school, for anyone like me.
Here are some tips and resources for learning more about different legal practices:
1. Attend events, volunteer, and talk to the career services office
I was overwhelmed by the number of events hosted by student organizations, especially in the beginning of the semester, but it was lovely to have unlimited choices in how to spend my lunch hour or evening, with the added perk of free food. These events come in many formats, from panels to networking receptions to day-long symposiums, and they often relate to current developments. It is definitely inspiring to see the relevance of legal studies to headline issues and debates. Follow your instinct and attend any events that seem interesting to you.
Many student organizations also offer hands-on opportunities to serve the community, from representing unemployment benefits claimants on appeal, advocating for suspended students, mediating family disputes, etc. These are great opportunities to help equalize resources and learn about legal practices in action.
Lastly, your school’s career service counselors are fantastic resources. They have given me helpful advice about the types of questions to ask and materials to read in order to learn more about different legal areas.
2. Talk to upperclassmen
After taking courses and working as a summer interns or associates, many upperclassmen decide on a practice group. Talking to these students is a great way to learn more about the considerations in differentiating between different practices.
3. Take a variety of courses that interest you
There is no one blueprint to selecting courses. But if the primary goal is exploring your practice interests, you might want to use class selection to inform or eliminate your choices. Attorneys often tell me not to worry about choosing classes to prepare for your first job out of school – as “your firm or organization will give you all the training you need.” Instead, they advise me to follow my interests and curiosities, as well as seek out professors whose classes I have enjoyed.
4. Sign up for mentorship programs
There are many mentorship programs available through student groups, so do not be shy about signing up for email lists at the student organizations fair. Mentors may be upperclass students, younger lawyers, or partners, and they all have great insight to offer. Professional associations also offer mentorship opportunities. For diverse 1Ls, the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD) has established the LCLD 1L Law School Mentoring Program, which pairs students with mentor attorneys all over the country. When requesting a mentor, you can mention what you hope to achieve from the relationship in order to be matched with an individual with the relevant experiences. Some firms also set up similar programs. For example, Sidley Austin hosts an annual summer mentorship program, giving rising 2Ls the chance to network with lawyers from firms, in-house legal departments, and government agencies.
5. Take online courses
There are many free, law-related courses offered on Coursera, which span a variety of topics and jurisdictions. InsideSherpa is another platform where law firms, including top firms such as Baker McKenzie, Latham & Watkins, and White & Case, provide free virtual experiences and internships. These programs are a great way to learn about substantive areas of the law and practice skills through self-paced exercises. Moreover, they offer a great way to learn about different firms, their specialties, and their culture.
6. Talk to lawyers
Attorneys were once law students too, deciding where and how to start their legal careers. It is important to remember that your first job does not define you as a lawyer. Many attorneys switch firms, go in-house or into government work, or transition into a different practice. Multiple partners have told me that they specialized in a certain area after some soul-searching as a young lawyer, or because of a fortuitous introduction.
7. Learn about the culture of each practice
Each practice has its unique quirks. Some involve quicker turnovers, such as mergers & acquisitions and some have busier seasons, like tax. Of course, the personalities and approaches of the people within the group have a huge impact on workflow and culture. Speaking to lawyers at networking events can sharpen your understanding of how a practice can affect your work schedule and fit in with your personal and family goals.
8. Read the business section (for transactional work)
A partner in the private equity practice once gave me a great piece of advice: to see if you would enjoy deal work, spend 30 minutes a day (or just develop a habit) reading the business section of a newspaper, like the New York Times DealBook. This is a great way to learn about current trends and development in the corporate world, and gauge your interest in banks, securities, tax, and other topics.
9. Utilize online resources
Law360, Above the Law, SCOTUSblog are just a few of the many blogs and platforms that follow legal news. Lawyers in firms big and small regularly publish writing on salient issues or recent victories. These articles are reader-friendly and introduce interesting topics and practices.Crowd-sourcing forums like Reddit, TopLawSchools, and LawSchool.Life can also be valuable resources, but bear in mind that the advice given is often very personal and fact-based.
For more ideas, see this article about choosing a practice area that’s a good fit for you and this podcast on how to decide what type of law to practice.
Most importantly, remember to take care of yourself! A frequent piece of advice I have received is to be open to new possibilities. In this time of COVID-19 and virtual internships and jobs, it is even better to be flexible and lend expertise to areas that are most in need of the support of current laws and legal innovation.
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